Opinion Covid-19 killed my brother and sister a week apart. It didn’t have to happen.

(Ann Kiernan for The Washington Post)
(Ann Kiernan for The Washington Post)
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Michele Genthon is a writer in Mercer Island, Wash.

When the call came that my brother and sister were both in the hospital, I said, “Covid.” It was a statement, not a question. I knew. Despite our begging and cajoling, they had both refused the vaccines.

I immediately began the grieving process, skipping right over denial and bargaining. There was no denying the odds, and bargaining required faith. Anger was my overwhelming emotion. As much as I love them, I was angry at the suffering they were causing themselves, the anguish they were causing their family and many friends, and the trauma they were inflicting on the health-care personnel overwhelmed with cases including theirs.

The next few days were a roller coaster, vacillating between paralyzing depression and panic attacks. My heart raced; I could not breathe. I did not know emotions could cause such physical pain: My head throbbed, my heart ached, my stomach burned, my limbs tingled. I knew the rituals of death, but I would not be allowed to sit beside them or sing to them as they departed.

The hospitals could only make time to give updates to one person, so we awaited reports that we would then pass along to others. My cellphone became my lifeline just as the oxygen masks were theirs. I carried my phone constantly in my hand so I could hear and viscerally feel all the texts and phone calls flooding in. I stopped using my electric toothbrush because two minutes was too long to lay down the phone.

I stopped reading newspapers because I could not abide any more bad news. I didn’t know what day it was. I Googled everything I could about covid-19 to learn the things the doctors and nurses, in their kindness, had left unsaid. I bookmarked funeral homes, newspaper obituary pages and probate checklists in my “favorites.” When offered food, I was surprised I was capable of hunger.

Juggling communications in three time zones meant days began early, sometimes at 3 a.m. I longed for evening, when there would be no more calls or texts, yet dreaded the void when there was nothing I could do other than wallow in self-pity and anguish.

We waited for the inevitable. We prayed, hoping for a miracle, knowing there would not be one.

My brother repeatedly ripped off his mask and begged to go home. The doctor suggested sedation and eventually intubation. Within a week of that first call, my brother died.

My brother was a single parent who had raised his daughter from the age of 2. He was a gregarious rugby player, his manner full of grace and blarney. He was a friend to everyone, and his greeting always warmed the soul of others.

We began preparations for his final rest while moving immediately to the impending death of my sister. I was numb. I repeated information on the phone so many times throughout the day, I forgot what I had said to whom, and my voice was hoarse.

I fretted that I had forgotten an important detail or left someone off the call list. I called people by the wrong name. I said “I love you” to people I barely know, and I meant it, because they loved my siblings.

I woke one morning, and for a brief instant, I did not remember my brother was gone or that my sister would surely follow him. Then I remembered and wondered why the sun dared shine.

My sister repeatedly pulled off her mask and begged to go home. The doctor suggested hospice. She died a week after her brother.

My sister is my hero. She was a military veteran who served a year as an Army nurse in Vietnam. She was an outstanding nurse and later an entrepreneur. Her husband had died years before, and she had no children, but her open house and heart had given her many friends.

My siblings no longer need masks. They have gone home, but not to the home they sought from their hospital beds. My brother and sister lived full lives, but I know they could have been with us longer had they been vaccinated. My heart is doubly broken. We have lost my brother’s hearty laugh, my sister’s dry wit and their loving arms.

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